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Previewing Buffalo Women's Soccer's opening weekend against St. Joseph's and Drexel

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The UB year starts with a pair of games in Philadelphia.

Mark Gritzmacher

Today will officially kick off the 2015-16 UB athletic year when Women's Soccer starts the season with a road match against the St. Joseph's Hawks in Philadelphia. Later this weekend, the Bulls will stay in Pennsylvania to take on Drexel on Sunday.

Last year, I bridged the gaps between Men's Soccer, Women's Soccer, and Volleyball matches with weekly roundups. There's a reason those didn't really continue into Swimming and Diving, Track and Field, and the spring sports; they just got too redundant. This season, we'll preview the upcoming matches every weekend for these three sports, and if you want to look backwards, the recaps won't be too far in the past.

St. Joseph's Hawks (11-9-0, 4-4 A-10 (2014))

Friday, 21 August, 7:00 PM
Sweeney Field, Philadelphia, PA

All-time Series: Tied, 0-0-0
Last Meeting: N/A
Live Stats: Via St. Joe's at this link
Video Stream: Appears to be a paystream run by the A-10 Conference, but isn't listed as 'premium,' so maybe you're in luck. A 24-hour pass through SJU would cost $4.95. Update: It is free for SJU's opening night.
2015 Common Opponents: St. Bonaventure (1 Nov)

St. Joe's Player to Watch - Emily Gingrich (M)

The Hawks' offense was a little more one-dimensional than UB's in 2014, but one can overlook that when the leading scorer pots 14 goals in 20 games. Junior Emily Gingrich, a 2014 and 2015 Preseason A-10 All-Conference First Teamer, set a new program record in total shots and matched the school mark with 14 goals. Of the eight SJU goals she did not score, she assisted on three. The Hawks offense will likely flow almost entirely through the junior, who may be the most dangerous scorer Buffalo sees outside of West Virginia this season and will test the Buffalo defense.

UB Player to Watch - Carissima Cutrona (F)

Speaking of leading scorers, the Bulls of course do not return theirs from 2014, and it sure looks like the first-line replacement for Katie Roberts is redshirt freshman and Colgate transfer Carissima Cutrona, who put up eye-popping numbers in high school, and managed three shots in 30 minutes of play after starting in UB's exhibition against Cleveland State (only Roberts averaged three shots per game for Buffalo in 2014).

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St. Joseph's, like UB, is coming off a banner year in their program's history, setting a new school record with 11 wins and earning the sixth seed in the A-10 Championship. It's a lower bar than UB's, however, as the Hawks were just 4-4-0 in conference. Together, the sixth seed and four conference wins matched SJU's best marks in the A-10 since 2005 and 2004, respectively. They've been predicted to finish seventh in the A-10 this season.

The Hawks are a better squad than St. Bonaventure, who challenged the Bulls for stretches in last year's season opener, but despite losing only four seniors and returning six starters do not boast the talent that UB returns from last year; Gingrich is the only returning All-Conference honoree for SJU, though senior goalie Allison Ebling did notch eight shutouts in 2014. On a team scale, while the Hawks and Bulls both allowed roughly the same number of total shots in 2014, UB took fully five more attempts at goal per game than St. Joe's.

Drexel Dragons (7-9-3, 4-3-2 CAA (2014))

Sunday, 23 August, 1:00 PM
Vidas Field, Philadelphia, PA

All-time Series: UB leads, 1-0-0
Last Meeting: (31 Aug 2014) UB defeated Drexel, 1-0, on a 58th-minute goal from Katie Roberts
Live Stats: Scroll down below the video player at this link.
Live Stream: Apparently free at the same link. I will drop Drexel a line to confirm. Update: Indeed free.
2015 Common Opponents: Niagara (13 Sep), Syracuse (17 Sep)

Drexel Player to Watch - Kelsie Fye (G)

Like St. Joseph's, Drexel graduated only four seniors last year, and returns the bulk of their starting lineup. Unlike Buffalo's first opponent, the Dragons lose each of their top two scorers last season and only bring back ten goals from 2014. Senior goalie Kelsie Fye's numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, but she'll be even more critical to the Dragons' success this year after earning six shutouts and losing four 1-0 games last season.

UB Players to Watch - Julia Benati (M)

I could highlight any of UB's midfielders here, truthfully. Drexel last year played an aggressive style, committing fouls and earning corner kicks at high rates. In the first half of their match against UB, the Dragons put the Bulls on their back feet, earning a number of high-quality chances early and limiting Buffalo's chances to just a single shot before UB turned the tide in the second half. With a new combination on the back line this season, aggressive and possession-oriented play from Benati and the rest of the Bulls midfield will control the pace.

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It speaks to UB's improvement over the course of 2014 that the Dragons pushed the Bulls for long stretches in their matchup, only to finish fifth in the CAA while Buffalo flipped a switch at the start of MAC play and dominated their conference. That fifth-place finish for Drexel was only their second-ever appearance in the CAA tournament and was built on tight games; only two of the Dragons' 19 games were decided by two goals.

Ostensibly, Drexel's defense could be improved this season after allowing one or zero goals in more than half their matches last season (though they did at times give up oodles of shots), but the offense looks unlikely to create more, if even as many, scores. The home team Sunday will have no one to test the Bulls like Emily Gingrich will on Friday, and Laura Dougall may have a quiet game.